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'Bring driver salaries into F1 cost cap to really level the playing field' – Motor Sport

Delivering an extra 0.3sec for $40m: Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen
Dan Istitene/F1 via Getty Images
I think it was Barcelona ’95. A journalist colleague, Mark Skewis, and I had just jumped into a hire car and were heading off to the Circuit De Catalunya. We were both a bit navigationally-challenged, shall we say, and happened to see Martin Brundle leaving at the same time.
“Let’s follow him,” said Skewie, who happened to be driving. So, I sat there gripping the passenger seat a bit tightly while trying to appear relaxed while a guy whose spatial awareness wasn’t quite up there with Lewis Hamilton’s, say, attempted to follow an F1 driver through the Barcelona traffic. We were still almost within sight of him when Martin got to, err…. his hotel.
Later, we bumped into him in the paddock. Brundle was in his penultimate F1 season, driving a Ligier. Skewie, who’d known him since sports car days, said: “Good luck this weekend, I’ve got you in my fantasy F1 team!”
“Oh,” Martin said with a smile, “That’s good of you. I’ll try not to let you down.”
“Yeah,” Skewie added, “I’d blown a load of dosh on Schuey and a Renault engine and needed a cheap No2…” Thankfully, Martin had a sense of humour!
Brundle the cut-price option for 1995 fantasy F1 fans
Pascal Rondeau/Allsport
I keep being reminded of that whenever budget caps arise – rather a lot, lately. While I get the concept, I was always sceptical about the ability to police such a thing in the F1 environment, and rather questioned the whole idea when it didn’t include such fundamentals as drivers. It was not a surprise to me that a couple of teams — Red Bull and Aston Martin — were found not to be in compliance with the cap in the first year of its operation.
A statement by the FIA detailing Red Bull’s errors said the team had “inaccurately excluded and/or adjusted costs amounting to a total of £5.607m” in 2021.
The team’s overspend breach of relevant costs adjusted by the FIA was £1.864m, amounting to an understatement of accounts of nearly 5% and an adjusted overspend of 1.6%. Red Bull’s penalty was a $7m (£6.07m) fine and a 10% reduction in permitted aero research for the next 12 months.
Some 13 points of non-compliance included an understatement related to the new powertrain business at Milton Keynes and costs relevant to catering, social security, apprenticeships, inventory (unused parts) and non-F1 activities.
Horner defends his team after cost cap breach agreement was announced
Red Bull
However, had Red Bull applied the correct treatment to a notional tax credit, the team would have exceeded the cap by only £432,652. Christian Horner pointed out in Mexico last weekend that it translated into a mere “0.37% overspend” and that therefore the fine and “10% (aero) reduction is pretty draconian”.
Horner’s use of ‘draconian’ was as predictable as rival team claims that the penalty was not substantial enough. Ferrari’s Laurent Mekies told Sky Sports Italia: “We think that this (overspend) amount is worth around a couple of tenths (per lap), so it’s easy to understand that these figures can have a real impact on the outcome of the races and maybe even a championship.
“We are not happy with the penalty for two important reasons. The first is that we do not understand how the 10% reduction of the ATA (aerodynamic research allowance) can correspond to the same amount of lap time that we mentioned.
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“There is another problem in that, since there is no budget cap reduction in the penalty, the basic effect is to push the competitor to spend the money elsewhere. It has total freedom to use the money it can no longer spend on use of the wind tunnel and CFD due to the 10% reduction, on reducing the weight of the car or who knows what else. Our concern is that the combination of these two factors means the real effect of the penalty is very limited.”
You can argue until the cows come home about the penalty fitting the crime, or not, but this sort of thing was always going to happen. And it’s all very confusing to grasp. It’s probably fair to say that the only ones with a credible opinion on the scale of the penalty will be those who head up the aero departments of 10 F1 teams. And, depending on the size and facilities of such departments, even their opinions are likely to be divided. So, what chance the man in the street?
I’m sorry if I can’t get too excited about Red Bull spending an extra four hundred and thirty grand when, at one end of the scale, you pay drivers such as Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton a reputed £40m per annum, which is not even factored into the assessment, while, at the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got Nicholas Latifi. Notwithstanding, with all due respect to Nicholas, that had he not been there, Williams might not even be around to worry about budget caps at all!
Viewed in light of McLaren‘s $100m fine, Red Bull has no real cause for complaint
What’s a Max or a Lewis worth? Probably around three-tenths per lap would be a fair assessment. For me, it only really works if, like dear old Skewie, you have to factor in every element. In the National Football League in the USA they have a salary cap (limitation on a team’s total salary spend) but even that doesn’t include coaches and so forth. And, predictably, any previous suggestions about F1 going down a similar road went down like a lead balloon with the sport’s superstars…
How draconian is Red Bull’s penalty? That depends on your perspective. Have 15 years really gone by since McLaren was fined $100m for being in possession of Ferrari’s intellectual property? Viewed in that light, Christian and Red Bull have no real cause for complaint.
On the other hand, if it’s correct that McLaren boss Ron Dennis was told that $5m was for the offence and $95m was for being a **** then that puts a slightly different slant on things! It’s what FIA president Max Mosley is alleged to have whispered in Ron’s ear as they shook hands for a PR shot at McLaren’s Brand Centre on resolution, Ron with a face like he’d been sucking a lemon. The words were subsequently denied by Max in his autobiography as he claimed that it was, in fact, Bernie Ecclestone who said it…
Horner with Ecclestone: the former F1 boss might have come up with a more creative punishment
Andrej Isakovic/Getty Images
Who knows what might have happened in the Max era? They may even have got their calculators out and concluded that if they swiped 25% of Max and Red Bull’s championship points they could contrive a championship for the rest of the season! A bit like 1994, although many will argue that Benetton deserved it.
I think it’s fair to say that while the governing body has been criticised for Abu Dhabi last year and some inconsistency relative to the likes of track limits and driver penalties, there is a transparency that has not been there in the past and a genuine attempt to run a proper ship, something that Fernando Alonso alluded to recently.
The Red Bull cost cap penalty saga has finally been concluded, with a fine of $7 million to the team and a reduction in its aero simulation capacity of 10%.…
Horner stated last weekend that Verstappen’s first championship win was in no way tarnished by the overspend and, while the rest of the paddock called for him to be hung, drawn and quartered, I found myself very much in agreement. Much of what Verstappen is doing right now is down to one thing – Verstappen. Even if a Red Bull chassis and Adrian Newey certainly helps!
Engineer Gianpiero Lambiase’s slow-down lap comment about continuing to be amazed by his driver, was revealing. It wasn’t blowing smoke, it was genuine surprise that Max had been able to drive sensitively enough, yet quickly enough, to make a soft-medium one-stopper work in Mexico.
Given Daniel Ricciardo’s late-race performance, wouldn’t it have been great if Mercedes had bolted a set of softs onto George Russell at his first stop? Hamilton might not have thought so and George probably wouldn’t have won, but it would have been great to see all the same.
Rather than knock it, let’s appreciate what Formula 1 is offering right now: some supremely talented drivers in strong teams giving us a spectacle that promises only to get even better. It might not be perfect but it’s as good and potentially better than it’s ever been.
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